Journals and refereeing: toward a new equilibrium

As we’ve discussed before (see also here), one of the difficulties of moving from our current system of review of scientific journal articles, to a new model of post-publication review, is that any major change seems likely to break the current “gift economy” system in which thousands of scientists put in millions of hours providing free reviews. And these reviews can be pretty good. Doing pre-publication reviews at the request of a journal editor: that seems like an obligation, and it’s helped along by pressure from all those associate editors. Remove that system of social obligation, just tell people they can do post-publication reviews when they want, and you’ll see a lot less reviewing. And the reviewing that does get done will be disproportionately by people with an axe to grind. So that could be a problem.

So what’s the new equilibrium, if we move away from I-give-free-labor-to-Elsevier-by-reviewing-random-papers-for-their-journals-at-the-behest-of-equally-uncompensated-editors to open post-publication review? Is it just that zillions of things get published and a few of them get reviewed in an unsystematic manner?

I don’t know.

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